Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

Lessons From Elijah’s Fit of Depression

climbing out of a pit of depressionTelling a person who is suffering from depression to just “snap out of it” or “cheer up” is not helpful; in fact it will tend to have the effect of driving a person deeper into their depression.

A classic picture of depression is found in 1 Kings chapter 19.  The prophet Elijah, having just defeated all the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, heard about the threatenings of Queen Jezebel, and he ran away.  The Bible says that he went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and he found himself a broom tree to sit under, and he asked God to kill him.  He didn’t want to live.

What an astonishing scene. Elijah had just seen God answer his prayer in a powerful demonstration, vindicating him before the entire nation; he should have been fearless at this point. Instead, he became afraid, and he plummeted into a time of depression.

One of the sidenotes of this passage is the great caution to us about how weariness can have a disproportionate effect upon us.  We can become easily discouraged when our physical and emotional resources are depleted through tiredness.

If ever there are days when I feel like I could give it all up, it’s always on a Monday.  After all of the energy release of preaching and being with lots of people on Sunday, it doesn’t matter how things really went, just the slightest problem or criticism can dump me into the depths of despair.  After 22 years in pastoral ministry, I recognize it now.  I know to just hang in there, because things will feel better by Tuesday.

My personal example is not really “depression” in the clinical sense, but it does illustrate how susceptible our emotions can be to tiredness. Elijah, however, went into a real pit of depression.

“Come on, man, pull yourself together!”

Not helpful.

Look instead at how God treated Elijah’s depression:

1. Sleep and Food

God began His ministry to Elijah by making sure that he got enough rest and a proper diet to recuperate (verses 5-8). And notice it was not just one nap and a meal. God reestablished a proper routine of sleep and food. Sleep … food … sleep … food …

2. Self-examination

God waited until Elijah was rested, and then confronted him with the question, “What are you doing here?”  (verses 9, 13) He got Elijah to consider what had happened to bring him to this place, and whether his reactions were appropriate. In other words, he made Elijah get things in perspective.

Owning and confessing our sin and failure is vital. We must see our part in bringing ourselves into despair. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Any psychotherapy that aims to excuse someone from personal responsibility and make them a “victim” is not going to be helpful in the long-term, but harmful (although it may make them “feel” better in the short-term).

3. A Shoulder to Cry On

God encouraged Elijah to talk about his feelings (verses 10, 14). To pray and vent.  God is the wisest of counselors, and part of this is that He is the best of listeners. One of the best things you can offer a discouraged or depressed person is the gift of “presence”, to just sit and listen.

4. Re-engagement with Work

God didn’t allow Elijah to sit and cry for too long. He gave Elijah a special task to complete (verses 15-18). He restored meaning and purpose to his days.

A depressed person needs to become involved again in doing things that are focused on others rather than themselves and their own problems, to break the vicious cycle of self-centeredness which only feeds the depression. A severely depressed person may not even want to get out of bed, let alone the house, but the very best thing for them (once rested) is to get up and get going despite how they feel.

This Sunday we’re finishing our teaching series: “Down”. We’ve looked the past 2 Sundays at “Dealing With Disappointment”, and “Coming Back From Discouragement”. This week we turn our attention to Climbing Out of a Pit of Depression.


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